The relationship between humane interactions with animals, empathy, and prosocial behavior among children

Matthew Wice1, Namrata Goyal2, Nicole Forsyth3, Karly Noel3, and Emanuele Castano4

1State University of New York at New Paltz, New Paltz, NY, USA
2Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
3Red Rover, Sacramento, CA, USA
4Universita Degli Studi di Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy

We investigated the relationship between empathy, prosocial behavior and frequency of humane interactions with animals among 3rd grade children (N = 158). We measured the frequency of humane interactions with animals via the Children’s Treatment of Animals Questionnaire (Thompson & Gullone, 2003), empathy via the Bryant Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents (Bryant, 1982), and prosocial behavior via teachers’ evaluations of children’s’ helpfulness towards others in the classroom. Results showed that children who had more frequent interactions with animals that involved a strong element of companionship reported greater empathy and that this, in turn related positively to prosocial behavior (measured by teacher’s report). A mediational model in which empathy accounts for the effect of positive interactions with animals on prosocial behavior provides consistent, if not conclusive, support for the relationship between interacting with animals and socio-emotional development.